Last summer, The Simpsons vowed that it would no longer have white actors voice non-white characters. This was a big change for the long-running series, as it had allowed regular performers such as Harry Shearer and Hank Azaria to voice the likes of Apu, Carl and Dr. Hibbert for the past 30 years. It’s possible that the new mandate came from above, though, as creator Matt Groening has now revealed that he wasn’t the one pushing for the change.
While speaking to The BBC, Groening defended the show’s traditional approach to dishing out roles between the cast, admitting that he didn’t have a problem with white actors playing non-white characters as it wasn’t meant to “exclude” anyone. “Times change,” Groening said, “but I actually didn’t have a problem with the way we were doing it. All of our actors play dozens of characters each, it was never designed to exclude anyone.”
The Simpsons first courted controversy in this area following comedian Hari Kondabolu’s 2018 documentary The Problem With Apu. Initially, the series addressed it in a similar way to Groening’s above comments, with Lisa turning to the camera during one episode and saying: “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”
The half-hearted move was blasted online, however, and forced them to remove Apu from the series altogether. The BBC asked Groening if he regretted handling the situation this way, to which he said:
“At a certain point it doesn’t matter what you say. You’re going to be attacked by whoever, you know? We’re not going out of our way to comfort bigots. On the other hand, if you do any kind of gesture and people perceive a weakness, you’ll be criticised.”
Despite this, Groening made clear that he fully supports the new rule and is committed to achieving better representation on the show. “I absolutely agree with that. And we’re trying to make it better,” he stated. “Bigotry and racism are still an incredible problem and it’s good to finally go for more equality and representation.”
So far, The Flash actor Alex Desert has replaced Azaria as Carl and veteran voice actor Kevin Michael Richardson is stepping in as Dr. Hibbert in place of Shearer – who’s definitely not a fan of the new casting decision.
The Simpsons, now in its thirty-second season, airs fresh episodes Sundays on FOX.